UCF rolls over Villanova in QB Timmy McClain’s debut
It’s been nearly two years since quarterback Timmy McClain last started a game, so forgive the 21-year-old if there was a bit of rust to his game.
McClain was back at FBC Mortgage Stadium on Saturday night, but this time with the Knights after transferring last year. He was thrust into the starting job after John Rhys Plumlee suffered a leg injury in the team’s win at Boise State last week.
This time, he was on the winning end as UCF jumped out to a 34-0 halftime lead before cruising to a 48-14 win against Villanova.
“He hadn’t played in two years and in fairness to him, that’s hard to do,” said UCF coach Gus Malzahn. “He settled down after a short period of time and really handled the offense very well.”
It was a slow start for McClain, who was 6 of 11 (55%) before completing four straight passes, including a 25-yard fade to Javon Baker for his first touchdown pass as a Knight with 5:10 left in the first half. But McClain would heat up, going 14 of 17 for the remainder of the game, finishing with 321 passing yards and a 191.3 passer rating.
“I did have a little bit of butterflies,” said McClain. “But the game started to slow down and I started to get more comfortable and started to get back to my rhythm, myself and who I am and what I do.”
Said Malzahn: “He just needs to get out there and he’ll get better and better. In each game, the moments were not too big for him. That’s the biggest thing with a quarterback. He wasn’t nervous and he was excited to play.”
True freshman Dylan Rizk entered the game with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Tailback Jordan McDonald scored on a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs, resulting from direct snaps in the Wildcat formation.
But it was far from being a clean performance for UCF, which committed seven penalties in the first half, including two blocks in the back that nullified a 92-yard punt return by Xavier Townsend and a 73-yard touchdown pass from McClain to Kobe Hudson.
The defense held Villanova to 38 yards in the first half, including 1-yard passing. The unit also had two sacks and an interception.
“We just didn’t let up,” said defensive end Josh Celiscar. “It was like we were having fun, doing what we normally do. We went out there are were relentless, ran to the football, were physical and upholding the standard.”
Celiscar, who was tied for the team lead with 6 tackles, switched to the tackle spot in the absence of Ricky Barber. The redshirt senior missed Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury as did defensive back DeJordan Mask.
Wildcats quarterback Connor Watkins scored on a 3-yard run at the start of the fourth quarter to deny UCF a shutout.
UCF (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) wrapped up its nonconference schedule, improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2019. The Knights enter Big 12 play next Saturday when they travel to Kansas State (2-1, 0-0 Big 12), which lost to Missouri on a walk-off 61-yard field goal as time expired Saturday.
“What you do is you put the season in segments,” said Malzahn. “That was the nonconference and we took care of it by going 3-0 and I feel like we got better. There were some really good things that happened tonight. Now it’s on to the conference play and that’s when everything turns up. Our guys understand that we’re going to the defending [Big 12] champs on their home turf and it’s another really tough place to play.”